An Online Bento Evolution
In April 2007, I was having an online conversation with someone in Allakhazam IRC, trying to explain what a bento was. In my mind I pictured a supermarket bento or one from 7-Eleven, with the signature slice of takuan, hot dog, beef, and spam on furikake rice. When I went to Google however, what I found had me in awe.
There was an entire online community of people into bento. They took photos of what they had to eat for lunch that day and posted them for people all over the world to oogle at. I spent a whole week just feasting my eyes on what other people were eating and couldn’t believe I found it so interesting. I had to get in on this. People like Little Yuzu were blowing me away. Little Yuzu sadly doesn’t bento anymore, but she was by far the biggest influence on my bento photography.
I made this bento in 2007 when we took the kids to the zoo.
If you haven’t a clue as to what I’m talking about, bento is the Japanese style of packing a lunch “to go” in a small box. Bento is for work, for school, for field trips, for picnics, etc. Take-out lunch on crack, if you will. I’ve come a long way in bentos. I have an impressive collection of boxes and accessories taking over my kitchen. I’m a contributor in the upcoming book 500 Bento Lunches: 500 Unique Recipes for Brilliant Bento(available for pre-sale) and am now in the process of writing my own bento book. I e-stalk people on Twitter that talk about bento. I’m completely obsessed. Any of my friends and family can attest to that.
In 2009, my readers (subscribe via feed or email) have given me increased praise for my bento lunches and as I approach the 2 year anniversary of when I officially became obsessed with bento, it got me to think about where this “hobby” has brought me and where it’s come itself. Having said that, besides presenting to you some of my most popular lunches, here are the most influential bento sites that brought me to where I am today.
For starters, I ended up losing 22 pounds in six months in 2007 by combining bento with Weight Watchers. Portion sizing becomes much easier when you have a little box to eat out of. My 100 bentos have been, by far, the most popular, with my 300th bento getting my blog the most hits so far.
My 100th bento has been my most popular bento on my Flickr account, but this is likely due to its age. Noah’s bento is quickly catching up.
Inspiration for this one came primarily from E-Obento, arguably the most insane site on the bentonets you’ll ever run across. It’s in Japanese, but that’s never really stopped me from drooling all over my keyboard.
If that doesn’t make you crap your pants, I seriously don’t know what it takes to impress you, but this woman bentos about every other day. Her work is amazing.
Bento lunches is by far the strongest bento community out there right now. A Live Journal community, Bentolunch first started to get popular around March 2006 and really began to boom in 2007. In 2009, it’s got over 6,000 members and over 4,000 watchers.
Like Little Yuzu, this lady is retired, but Cooking Cute is still a great influence upon many bentoers. She went gluten-free in 2006 when her husband was diagnosed with celiac disease.
After reading Bentolunch for a while, one woman began to stand out. Biggie posted daily lunches made for herself and her toddler son, who she lovingly refers to as “Bug” online. Biggie’s lunches always looked very simply packed, yet so beautiful and delicious. She eventually opened up her own site at Lunch in a Box.
Lunch in a Box is the most popular bento site, and it’s also the most useful. Biggie specializes in “speed” bentos and posts oodles of tips and tricks along with declicious recipes. Her tutorials are wondeful, with my personal favorite being the one for dashimaki tamago.
Kaoko over at Kitchen Cow was another big influence on my bentos. She features lots of yummy recipes and has a beautiful photography style.
Wererabbits is a vegetarian bento blog and features amazing lunches with the most vibrant colors. I’m a big meat fan, but if anyone could convince me to give it up, it would have to be her.
Another standout bentist is Mushmo, who entered a fabulous pink Nintendo DS bento in my 100k Bento Contest.
The winner of above-mentioned 100k Bento Contest was a Totoro themed lunch by Kitanya. Voting for my 200k Bento Contest is now open.
Nilmandra has her own LJ, but I’ve been a fan of hers through Bentolunch. You can count on her to have lipsmacking lunches all the time and she doesn’t even use a “real” bento box most of the time!
In 2008, Susan Yuen wrote Hawaii’s Bento Box Cookbook: Fun Lunches for Kids, which featured over 50 cute lunches to make for kids in Hawaii. She’s got a blog now and her recent lunches have become even better than her published ones!
Katy over at Obentolunch4kidz has a lot of great ideas for children’s bentos like this one with beef and cheese taquitos.
Another really insanely cute Japanese bento blog is Cute Obento, which belongs to Lucky Sundae. These walruses she made are something I could only make in my wildest dreams.
New to the bento scene is Anna the Red, whose Bento Factory has been a fantastic inspiration for kyaraben lovers (character bentos) and gamers. My hands-down favorite of hers is her Katamari Damacy bento.
I mean, is that not one of the most badassed things ever?
Another bentist I’ve recently become a fan of is Nonochan. I don’t know if she has a blog, but the first bento of hers that caught my eye was her amazing Christmas bento.
Shoppingmum has a blog called Mothering Corner, so check it out to see tons of cute bentos just like this one.
A popular bento of mine was one that I made for my uncle, Mike Sakamoto, who passed away last month after a battle against cancer.
In October 2008, I decided to enter Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XI Fan Festival 2008 Crafting Competition. I made a bento of a mandragora and a lycopodium, eventually winning second place after a vote by Fan Festival attendees.
There are many other great bento sites out there, so if you want to give things a try here are a few more sites to inspire you.
Bento Challenge – A LiveJournal community with a challenge theme each week.
BentoTV – Watch this girl show you how to make bento.
Just Bento – Run by Maki, author of Just Hungry.
Not Exactly Bento – Written by Jen, who began bentoing as way to eat healthier.
I’ve mentioned before that bentos are not new to me. Growing up in Hawaii means that bento is a part of your life, no matter what island you live on. Ever since Barack Obama won the election, I’ve been boasting about how we now probably have the first president who, when asked, will know just what you’re talking about when you mention a bento. Yes, I’ve even managed to turn the president into a bento topic. That’s the kind of bento monster you can turn into.
Looking for places to buy bento stuff online? Try these sites:
Amazon – There’s some Mac software named Bento. Us real bento freaks tend to get annoyed by this since you end up Googling a lot of software stuff, but Amazon has some good things such as Zojirushi’s thermal lunch jars.
From Japan with Love – A couple in Japan run this Yahoo store which offers lots of cool bento boxes and accessories not found anywhere else.
Ichibankan USA – Offering tons of very affordable bento boxes and accessories, Ichinbankan only ships to the continental US.
J-List – Based in Japan, J-List is one of the most popular places to buy bento boxes.
Since I began doing bentos in 2007, the amount of bento blogs out there has boomed, especially in the United States. Hundreds of people are doing this and sharing their photos. Isn’t it time you got in on the fun?